J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series holds a unique position in the pantheon of children’s literature. Magical, moving, and filled with unforgettable characters, it is a cultural touchstone for a generation. It’s also complicated, dark, and frightening.
The original readers grew up with Harry — waiting ten years between the publication of the first and last book. Kids (and adults) stood in line for midnight release parties, dressed as wizards and witches, strung out on sugar, caffeine, and excitement. Younger fans had time to mature between Harry’s first day at Hogwarts and his final confrontation with Voldemort. The losses of beloved characters were doled out year by year, giving readers a chance to process the emotional fall-out before plunging into the next book.
Today’s readers, however, can binge on all seven books without pause — but there are good reasons to space them out. Harry’s world is not all joy and magic and because of that, it’s useful to be mindful of how children approach the series. Delaying reading the later books can give younger readers the chance to mature before grappling with increasingly complex content. Making each book an event can also give families something special to look forward to.
If you’re looking for some fun ways to stretch out your time with Harry and his friends, and make this special series a family event, we have some suggestions.
1. The Best Birthday Gift Ever
Combine birthdays and broomsticks for celebrations your child will never forget. Common Sense Media and others suggest reading the first book when your child is around eight, so after you’ve eaten cake and unwrapped presents, open up the cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and get ready for the best gift you’ll ever give your child. Every year thereafter, tackle another book, until your child is ready to read them on his own. Be mindful, however, if you have a sensitive child, you may want to delay until he’s nine or ten.
2. Invite Harry for the Holidays
We read certain books at the holidays, and although they are often Christmas themed, there’s no reason not to make Harry Potter your holiday treat. Start on the first night of your school’s winter break and read through the New Year. If you celebrate Christmas, take a few hours in front of the fire or the tree to snuggle up and see what trouble Harry is getting into this time.
3. Start the School Year Off Right
Whether your child has nightly reading quotas, Accelerated Reader tests, or book reports, Harry Potter will satisfy any school reading requirements. You can start off reading to them, then encourage your children to try a sentence on their own, then a paragraph, a page, and a chapter. Pretty soon, you’ll be listening while your child does all the hard work.
4. Combat the Summer Slide
Make sure your child’s reading skills don’t decline during summer break by putting a copy of Harry Potter in their hands on the last day of school. Set a challenge date for your child to finish the book by and get ice cream when she’s done. Bonus points if you can come up with ice cream names for the characters, like Snape’s Sinister Strawberry or Ron’s Rocky Road. (Hey, I didn’t say these were good names!) On rainy days, after they’ve read a few chapters, try a Harry Potter-themed art project or two to keep things interesting.
5. Magical Movie Night!
If you have a movie buff on your hands, plan a viewing party for each of the movies (remember, the seventh book was broken into two movies — bonus!). But before you hit play, make sure your kids have read the book. No matter how good something looks on film, the book is always better.
6. Welcome to the Wizarding World
If you want to go crazy, start planning a family vacation to Universal Orlando’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Set a date and read the books in advance on whatever timeline works for your family. All family members have to read the books before you leave. Whoever finishes first gets to choose the first ride or attraction.
7. It’s Halloween Harry
Read a book every October 1st and aim to finish before you go trick-or-treating. Let your child choose his or her Halloween costume from the book. As the books get darker, the costumes get creepier!